ACTU Assistant Secrtary Bill Mansfield outlines the vision, values and a program for the ILO’s role in bringing social security to the hundreds of millions who make up the excluded majority.

At the outset I wish to express my thanks to the Chair of the Committee Ms. Lenia Samuel, the Employers’ Vice-chair Mr. Jorge de Regil, and all the members of the Committee, especially my colleagues on the Workers’ benches. Their efforts enabled the Committee to produce a result which we believe can make a difference.

Special thanks are also due to the ILO staff for their professionalism and assistance which was an essential contribution to the result which was achieved. Mr. Emmanuel Reynaud, Mr. Roger Beattie and Ms. Antoinette Juvet-Mir and their staff deserve special recognition.

Around 200 members of this tripartite conference have come together to consider the issue of social security. Together we have brought forward a vision, a set of values and a programme for the ILO’s role in bringing social security to the hundreds of millions who make up the excluded majority.

The Workers’ group came to this Conference with one objective in regard to social security. That was to work together with employers and governments to enable the ILO to move forward to address this fundamental injustice which sees hundreds of millions of workers and their families throughout the world, without the benefit of a system of benefits for health care, without unemployment or retirement benefits, and largely in unregulated, low paid work in the informal economy.

We said to each other that we could only be proud of our efforts if we could say with conviction that we, as a committee, made a difference so that, as far as this institution is able, social security will be made available for those who in the past have been excluded.

I recently listened to a speech by Nelson Mandela who was outlining how we can make a difference. He said we must “light the mind, warm the heart and change the world”. In our Committee discussion and through the Office report we did “light the mind”. No one who begins to understand the circumstances of the excluded majority could not “warm the heart”. The question is, can we “change the world”?

Last week I was working one evening and a programme relating to a community-based housing project for disadvantaged people came on the television. In part it focussed on a woman who was standing in a half-finished framework of what would be her new home. The home was small. The brick walls were roughly made. The window frames were surrounded by gaps. And she was happy. Her smile was broad and constant. Before she had virtually nothing. Now she has something. So it should be with social security B for those who have nothing we need to provide something. Over time we must develop a system.

This example illustrates the North-South divide. Or more precisely the divide between those who have and those who have not. The divide has been growing rather than reducing. The increase in the number of poor in the world, the growing levels of unemployment in many countries and the absence of social security are all manifestations of this issue. If our world is to survive and we are to live with peace and social justice the ILO must help to light our minds on fresh solutions by which those who have-not can obtain more advantage from the world’s economic and social development.

The Committee has given the Director-General a major challenge. It is to renew the campaign started in 1944 to bring social security to all those in need.

The Workers’ group believes the Conclusions reached by the Committee reflect universal values held by the social partners and represent a substantial set of objectives for the ILO. They include:

– acknowledging that social security is a basic human right which can enhance productivity and achieve both social and economic progress. In a time of rapid change it is more necessary than ever;

  • they state that there is no single model which will suit all nations but stress that the State has a priority role in facilitating, promoting and extending social security;
  • the principles which should underpin all schemes are set out;
  • benefits should be secure and non-discriminatory;
  • schemes should be well-managed;
  • administrative costs should be as low as practicable;
  • there should be a strong role for the social partners;
  • good governance is essential.


Unfortunately, many social security reforms that have taken place in some regions in recent years have not respected these principles. They include examples of privatisation which we do not support.

The extension of social security coverage to the excluded majority is recorded as the highest priority and mechanisms for achieving this are set out.

The objective of moving people from the informal economy to the formal economy is acknowledged. We all know that in large part this requires good government, strong but sustainable economic growth, job creation and a fair distribution of the nation’s wealth.

The link between unemployment and poverty is made. The importance of education and skills is stated. Active labour market policies must ensure that we do not trap people in social security systems but at the same time adequate unemployment benefits need to be paid.

Gender discrimination is recognized as a major issue. We must work to overcome it, where necessary by policies which promote positive discrimination to ensure that women are not left with inadequate social security benefits.

Many of our societies are ageing. Fewer children are being born, people are living longer and the workforce must support more dependants. The answer is not to reduce social security benefits but to increase employment rates and boost economic growth.

HIV-Aids is acknowledged as a major problem which requires more urgent attention by the ILO and other institutions.

Finally, and most importantly, it sets out a wide-ranging and important work programme for the ILO to undertake in conjunction with member States, including a major campaign to promote the extension of social security and calling on governments to approach the ILO for special assistance to achieve outcomes which significantly improve the application of social security to the excluded majority.

In regard to the ILO work programme the Committee, I believe, would want to stress one word, outcomes. The poor have been waiting a long time for social justice. Any ILO research, technical advice or expert meetings should be judged on one criterion B does it result in outcomes whereby social security is made more available to the excluded majority or that deficiencies in existing systems are remedied?

I work for a national union council in Australia. It is easy for our affiliate unions to hand over a serious problem to us and say please fix it. Sometimes they don’t even say please. Often they are problems which should be a joint responsibility. So it is with social security. If we simply give the task to the ILO without acting at home our outcomes will be much reduced. States must lead and their actions are crucial. Employers and unions must also accept part of the responsibility alongside the work of the State and the ILO. To be successful the social security programme needs resources. The ILO has to re-examine its priorities to ensure that the necessary funds and the staff are put in place to achieve the results that are needed. It may be that we need some extra assistance from external funds. I would hope that the Governing Body will receive a report on this matter in November.

You may recall words you said in a speech to a global welfare conference in the mid-1990s which remain valid today. You said:

“Wounds inflicted on people by poverty, deprivation of dignity, by exclusion and lack of opportunity for productive employment will continue to fester until we acknowledge the need to … work together to make our common dwelling truly secure for people everywhere.”

You concluded your speech by saying that we: “… should never fear to be out in front with ideas and values. … For a dreamer is one who can find his way by moonlight and sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

We know that many hundreds of millions of people dream of a better life with productive jobs, democratic governments, fair labour standards and social security. We urge you to continue to use the resources of the ILO to achieve the outcomes in the area of social security which can help make that dream a reality so that together we might change the world.

Thank you.

Speech by Mr. Bill Mansfield, Vice-Chair of the Workers’ group (Wednesday, 20 June 2001) to the Committee on Social Security 89th Session of the International Labour Conference (Geneva, 5-21 June 2001)